Seth Wenig/AP
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (c.) and members of local religious institutions stand in front of the Statue of Liberty for a news conference in New York Tuesday to show their support for the Ground Zero mosque plans in lower Manhattan.

Ground Zero mosque clears hurdle, but firestorm far from over

The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously not to stop the demolishing an existing building – clearing the way for the Ground Zero mosque.

The Islamic community that hopes to build a $100 million mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero has cleared an important hurdle – approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build on the site.

But that approval – which was expected – is not likely to end the controversy about whether the site of the mosque is offensive to people who lost their loved ones on 9/11 or whether the Islamic community has the right to build a place of religious worship where they want.

The issue has taken on national proportions with Republicans such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich coming out in opposition to the mosque. It has become a part of the governor’s race in New York with Republican Rick Lazio opposed to it and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in favor. And, last week, the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish organization, announced its opposition to the mosque at its proposed site.

“We had Islamic fundamentalists who killed 3,000 people at the World Trade Center site and are trying to kill more since then, so to have a Mosque at that site will stir up feelings – and antagonistic ones,” says Douglas Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College in New York.

'New Yorkers and Americans'

Almost immediately after the Landmarks vote, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and 10 religious leaders held a press conference on Governor’s Island, where the mayor pointed out the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted.

“On September 11, 2001 thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives," said Mayor Bloomberg. “In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’ ”

About 40 to 50 of the 9/11 victims were Muslims, prompting Bloomberg to observe, “our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans.”

However, in its opposition to the plan, the ADL said the proponents of the plan “may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam” but then concluded, “building the Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”

The founders of Cordoba House, as the Islamic Center is to be called, have said they would like it to be similar to the 92nd Street Y, a mainly Jewish organization that is open to the community no matter what their faith.

On Monday, this prompted the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to say in a press release, “Once up and running, it won’t be long before we know if the founders have delivered on their promise. If so, New York and America will be enriched. If not, the center should be shunned.”

Critics vow to continue

Politicians opposed to the religious center said they would continue to keep up the pressure. “Today is just one more step in the ongoing public dialogue about the questionable backers of the Cordoba Mosque at Ground Zero,” said Mr. Lazio in a statement.

Lazio has been trying to cast aspersions on the financial backers of Cordoba House. He has called on Attorney General Cuomo to mount an investigation.

But Scott Stringer, the Manhattan Borough president, who supported the Landmark decision, in a statement denounced Lazio’s efforts as “cynical posturing of a floundering gubernatorial candidate.”

Instead, he said, “It is my hope that we can all come together to fight for what’s really important – finding a bipartisan solution to fund health benefits for 9/11 first responders, securing federal antiterrorism dollars to keep our city safe, and promoting religious tolerance and freedom.”


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